The Construction Office Trailer & Site 1

This chapter describes my ideas for the construction office trailer and surrounding building site.

Not everyone will agree financially with these ideas.  Some builders might not have the budget to outfit a construction trailer with the office equipment and furniture I recommend.  The goal of this chapter, however, is to analyze the pros and cons of a good construction office…so that the decisions regarding the construction office trailer can be the result of thoughtful consideration as well as budget constraints.

A friend of mine built high-end custom houses in the beach communities of Southern California.  He and his partner work alternate Saturdays on their construction projects and often use this time to secure new business, using their construction office trailer as a selling tool.

On the weekend, people drive up to their projects, typically large single houses under construction, saying that they own a lot around the corner or down the street, and ask questions about their construction company.

My friend takes them into the construction trailer and shows these prospective clients… framed photographs of past and current projects, 24×36-inch hand-drawn and colored activity-on-node “box” construction schedules, and computer-generated estimating spreadsheets they use to help customers establish budgets…and to secure bank construction loan financing.

Their construction trailers each have a conference table, comfortable chairs, floor carpeting, bookshelves, a drafting table, and organized plans table, copy/fax machine, laptop computer, and isometric three-dimensional sketches of construction details pertaining to the construction.

The interior look and feel of the trailer, combined with the framed photographs and schedules on the walls…leaves the prospective clients with a very good first impression.  This approach works very well for their type of work because people thinking about building a new house drive around the area to look at what is actually being built…rather than go to a builder’s or general contractor’s business office.

The opportunity to create the right impression and thereby find new business in their case…is right on the project site…and their construction office trailer plays an important role.

The Construction Office Trailer                             

If construction loan interest on large projects amounts to hundreds of dollars per day…then the construction office trailer should not be something to be economized…but should be seen for what it is…a combat command center.

Instead of looking at the office trailer, furniture, and equipment as overhead costs to be automatically economized…the field office should be looked at as a tool to speed up the construction operation.

The size of the construction trailer is critical for function as a command center…but some builders think that two or three people can work effectively out of an 8×12 or 8×16 foot trailer.

Try placing the company president, the office receptionist, and an accounts payable accountant within one small room at the corporate office…and see how long that lasts.

A few years ago, I worked as a superintendent on a 282-unit, 22-building condominium project.  The size of our construction office trailer was 12×60 feet, with three offices and a plans room.  Having previously worked out of the typical 8×12 and 8×16 foot trailers on other projects for other companies, the luxury of having enough wall space to hang schedules and pickup lists, along with being able to work in a separate office…without having random interruptions and attempting to tune-out background conversations as a result of being in a confined space…was a huge benefit toward improved efficiency, time management, and morale.   

This book describes management tools such as schedule charts, walks checklists, homebuyer options selections spreadsheets, and cheats sheets.

All these paper tools require enough wall space to be displayed.  These and other informational aids…such as contact phone number lists and calendars…provide information at a glance…thereby saving time and improving efficiency.  The typical 8×12 or 8×16 foot trailer simply does not have enough wall space.

An archaic mindset of some builders is that by providing an inhospitable and too small office trailer for the field staff…that this will encourage the superintendents to spend more time out in the actual construction site and less time “camped-out” in the construction trailer.

This old-fashioned approach backfires at the end of the workday when superintendents need to stay onsite to do paperwork after the tradespeople leave.  If the construction office trailer is an uninviting place to work…the superintendents are more apt to leave the project each day when the construction activity concludes.

In my opinion, the best approach is to provide a construction office trailer that is adequately furnished and equipped to function as a field office, have a comprehensive construction program in place and functioning so that field staff has clearly assigned tasks to perform daily, and have an organized overall operation in the field for between 8 to 10 hours per day on weekdays with no “catch-up” work occurring on weekends…no matter how much time is spent inside or outside the trailer by the builder’s field staff.

Builder’s Pantry Example…Standardizing Dimensions

Illustrated in Fig. 4.8 above is a pass-through butler’s pantry placed between the kitchen and the dining room.

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In this particular case, the builder used four different architects for his projects, each of which had different floor plan dimensions for the size of these butler’s pantries that varied from house to house.

Because this builder used 2’-8” wide interior doors standard throughout the house, and 3-1/2” wide casing…the opportunity was available to standardize the floor plan dimensions for every house design to provide adequate clearance for everything to fit.

For whatever reason, this was not done.

Figure 4.9 shows a standard sketch detail that could have been given to each of the builder’s architects…along with other cheat-sheet sketches…that illustrate the minimum dimensions for the butler’s pantry…for a 24-inch countertop, 23-inch lower cabinet, and drywall reveals on each side of the door opening casing…requiring a minimum overall dimension of 5’-6” (66 inches).

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Figure 4.10 shows a butler’s pantry that was designed with a dimension less than 5’-6” (face-of-stud to face-of-stud)…with the door casing on the right side removed for the installation of the lower cabinet and countertop.  The casing was then later scribe-cut to fit around the cabinet and countertop…giving the appearance of poor design.

In this particular case, the in-house interior designer may have assumed a standard 24” countertop and a 23” cabinet, or gotten poor measurements from the field, in specifying items for the butler’s pantry that did not fit.

Standardizing everything from the 5’-6” wall space to the 23-inch cabinet and 24-inch countertop…for every project uniformly…would have prevented this reoccurring dimensional bust of ripping door casing to fit…which for this builder resurfaced again and again on about half of their new projects.

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Door Casing Does Not Fit at Bedroom

The floor plan for this bedroom door has an unusual dimension-line from the face-of-stud at the left-hand side to face-of-stud on the inside of the bathroom wall at the bathtub…of 3’-8-1/2” or 44-1/2”.

In this particular example, the bedroom door was 2’-8” wide and the door casing was 3-1/2” wide.  This requires a minimum width from drywall-to-drywall of 39-3/4 inches as shown in Fig. 4.5.

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If the bathtub wall is 2×4 framing (3-1/2”)…then doing the math using ¾” thick drywall because of taping mud at the vertical inside wall corners…we have only 39-1/2 inches width when we need 39-3/4 inches…44-1/2” minus 3-1/2” minus 1-1/2” equals 39-1/2”.  This would then require ripping 1/4-inch off one of the vertical door casing sides.

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In this case, the width from drywall-to-drywall measured 37-1/2”.  Either the bathtub wall was framed 2×6 or the framing layout ended up on the wrong side of the chalked layout line.  The two drawings below illustrate both sides of the door casing cut to narrower widths in order to fit.

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